The personal statement is one of the most frustrating and anxiety-provoking elements of the application process. Definitely do NOT procrastinate on this key piece of your application.
To write the best personal statement that represents you in your best light, you should sit down well ahead of the due date to allow for adequate time in brainstorming, contemplation, revisions, and revisiting your work with a fresh perspective.
This post is all about getting started. We’ll outline helpful tips for researching, reflection, and idea generation. When you don’t know where to begin, this is where you should start.
Next, read our free Step-by-Step Guide: How to Write a Medical School Personal Statement for what to include and common mistakes to avoid.
Personal Statement Overview
A personal statement should be just that—personal. Make it a story about you. This is your opportunity to show your story or something else worthwhile that the admissions committee would not otherwise learn from your application. A common mistake is writing a narrative version of your CV—this is boring, ineffective, and will not leave a good impression.
You should still highlight certain elements that were instrumental in your path to medicine, but this needs to be shown through a narrative, not a list of accomplishments.
How to Start the Medical School Personal Statement
1 | Research Personal Statement Examples
Every medical student has to write a personal statement, which means there’s a wealth of examples to learn from. Take the time to read over as many quality personal statement examples as you can.
If you know someone who successfully matriculated to med school, ask them if you can read their personal statement. Look for examples from real people who found success with their personal statement.
Med School Insiders has a database of personal statements from successful medical school applicants. These examples include key personal statement feedback that will help you understand what elements make for a strong essay. Read the personal statements and the feedback they received to gain additional insight into what admissions committees are looking for.
Remember that these are only examples to learn from. You can’t copy or mimic someone else’s personal statement, but you will get an idea of what works. Use examples to spark your own ideas. Your own personal statement is going to be unique to you.
2 | Reflect on Past Experiences
After you have an understanding of what’s expected, it’s time to do some deep reflection. Let’s not call it brainstorming. You don’t need to get creative yet, you just need to think back on your life and the experiences that led you to where you are now.
What are the key moments that made you who you are today?
What are some of your fondest memories?
What experiences in your life changed you?
What experiences in your life challenged you?
What roadblocks did you hit?
When did you first consider becoming a doctor?
Who in your life inspires you?
If you have photo albums, notebooks, or journals, now is the time to bring them out again. You never know how you’ll spark that perfect idea for your personal statement. Take the time for deep reflection before you think about writing.
You need to dig deep to determine what you value most about becoming a doctor and then think of tangible experiences that helped you realize those values.
3 | Choose Key Experiences and Traits
Your personal statement isn’t a list of accomplishments. You need to zero in on a few key traits you want to highlight. Don’t worry about covering everything.
Think about both your academic and personal accomplishments. This includes research, volunteer work, hobbies, organizations you were involved with, travel, or other extracurriculars. Next, figure out what you’re looking for in a program. There is a wide array of program types. Figure out what is the best fit for you. If your underlying drive is to practice medicine in underrepresented communities, let that shine through in your essay.
If you choose a particular trait to highlight, you need to have an experience or story to back it up. Choose traits and experiences you want to talk about or have more to say about. There’s a good chance the admissions committee will ask you to further elaborate on your personal statement during the interview process.
Choose the personal strengths you are particularly proud of. If the admissions committee only remembers one thing about you, what do you want it to be? Personal statements often involve experiences that express either compassion, a passion for patient interaction, intellectual curiosity for medicine, dedication and discipline, perseverance in the face of adversity, or interpersonal and professional skills.
4 | Allow Your Ideas to Evolve
Don’t get discouraged if your initial ideas don’t end up in your personal statement. You have to start somewhere, and as you receive feedback and continue to refine and edit, the direction of your personal statement will likely evolve.
You need to have time to let people with experience read your personal statement to provide feedback. What you thought was a good idea may not land so well. Try not to get too stuck on one idea. Be open to the feedback you receive from peers, mentors, and professional services.
Don’t worry about finding that one perfect idea before you get started. Do your research, reflect on your life, and choose a direction. Getting started early is essential, as this will give you time to revise, edit, and sometimes change directions altogether.
Things to Do
- Engage the reader in the first sentence. Whether it is by conveying your passion or hooking the reader in with an interesting story, be sure to capture their attention.
- Show, don’t tell. Telling a story is boring and dull. Do not tell the reader how passionate you are about medicine. Instead, show them with concrete examples that illustrate your journey to medicine. It’s much more compelling to show someone your desirable qualities with stories rather than claiming to be something. Instead of saying you’re a hard worker, illustrate that trait through storytelling.
- Illustrate the skills and qualities you possess. What will make you a good physician? What sets you apart from other applicants?
- Be concise and direct. There is no need for flowery language or fillers that you used in high school English. Be sure to use your words efficiently in the weaving of your story. Using a thesaurus throughout your essay doesn’t make you sound smarter. It just makes you sound like you used a thesaurus.
Things NOT to Do
- Do not overuse the word “I”. With excess use of the word “I”, you are more likely to list accomplishments and tell a story. Instead, paint a picture and show the reader.
- Do not list your accomplishments or rehash your C.V.
- Do not tell a physician what medicine is all about. This will more often than not depict a superficial understanding of the field. The admissions committee already knows what medicine is about, but they do not know about you.
Med School Insiders offers a premium Personal Statement Editing Service where real doctors with admission committee experience provide feedback and edits on your essay. Each physician editor has passed a rigorous screening process to ensure that you receive the best quality results.